1923 The Rats in the Walls

Weird Tales 1924.03
Written 1923.08, published in Weird Tales 1924.03 (after being rejected by Argosy All-Story Weekly).

Opening Statement:
     On July 16th, 1923, I moved into Exham Priory after the last workman had finished his labours. The restoration had been a stupendous task, for little had remained of the deserted pile but a shell-like ruin; yet because it had been the seat of my ancestors I let no expense deter me.
What in Brown Jenkin's Name..?
     When a castle is renovated, the new owner keeps hearing rats behind the walls. He eventually discovers an abandoned underground pantry, originally stocked with some exotic livestock.
     The narrator (an American) returns to his ancestral castle in England. From local reports, he learns that his ancestors were cultish fiends and that the castle has historically had a rat problem. He moves in with several cats. The narrator soon learns that his English predecessor had one day murdered everyone in the castle, and then fled to America to start a new life. 
     The cats seem restless, but the narrator can find no signs of mice. They set traps for rats anyways, and the narrator has weird dreams about "demonic swineherds" and rats. He wakes to the sounds of rats behind the walls and sees his wall tapestries rippling with motion. However no rats are found behind them. Additionally, all of the rat traps are sprung, but with no rat remains.
     The next night, the narrator and a local named Norrys spend the night in the sub-cellar, from where the rats seem to come from. In the night, the narrator hears the scuttling of rats, but Norrys does not. Their cat leads them to a crevice near an altar, where a breeze can be felt. Returning with some archaeologists, they break the altar open to discover a staircase, strewn with deformed, rat-gnawed bones. Descending the stairs, they find an abandoned underground cavern containing ruins and bones (apparently from different historical eras). They discover that primitive "human cattle" (walking on all fours) had been penned up and used as a food source by the former inhabitants of the castle. They learn that, at one point, the human cattle must have broken out of their pens after the cavern had been abandoned (recall, the last owner of the castle had killed off his family in horror and then fled to America). Subsequently, an army of rats had devoured the remaining human cattle (resulting in the bones on the stairs) and then escaped out into the countryside (causing the rat-plague).
     Eventually the narrator describes the pits of rat-gnawed human remains and begins going mad. After he is found chewing on the remains of Norrys, he is locked away in an asylum. The narrator can still hear the rats leading him on from behind the cell walls.
Essential Saltes:
     My searchlight expired, but still I ran. I heard voices, and yowls, and echoes, but above all there gently rose that impious, insidious scurrying; gently rising, rising, as a stiff bloated corpse gently rises above an oily river that flows under endless onyx bridges to a black, putrid sea. Something bumped into me—something soft and plump. It must have been the rats; the viscous, gelatinous, ravenous army that feast on the dead and the living… Why shouldn’t rats eat a de la Poer as a de la Poer eats forbidden things?… The war ate my boy, damn them all… and the Yanks ate Carfax with flames and burnt Grandsire Delapore and the secret… No, no, I tell you, I am not that daemon swineherd in the twilit grotto! It was not Edward Norrys’ fat face on that flabby, fungous thing! Who says I am a de la Poer? He lived, but my boy died!… Shall a Norrys hold the lands of a de la Poer?… It’s voodoo, I tell you… that spotted snake… Curse you, Thornton, I’ll teach you to faint at what my family do!… ’Sblood, thou stinkard, I’ll learn ye how to gust… wolde ye swynke me thilke wys?… Magna Mater! Magna Mater!… Atys… Dia ad aghaidh ’s ad aodann… agus bas dunach ort! Dhonas ’s dholas ort, agus leat-sa!… Ungl… ungl… rrrlh… chchch…

     That is what they say I said when they found me in the blackness after three hours; found me crouching in the blackness over the plump, half-eaten body of Capt. Norrys, with my own cat leaping and tearing at my throat.
From Dr. Armitage's Notes:
  • Genealogy horror (see "The Festival"). An effective variation of the "going-mad narrator-descendant" will later be used in "The Shadow Over Innsmouth".
  • Flutes.
  • "The Rats in the Walls" makes a nice complement to "The Cats of Ulthar".
  • Like "The Moon Bog", this story also features the locally-discouraged rehabilitation of real estate with a forbidding history.
  • Under the castle is found a 17th century butcher shop/kitchen. It's possible the narrator's ancestors might have had the same book seen in "The Picture In The House".
  • This story also references Nyarlathotep as the narrator begins to "change":
     It was the eldritch scurrying of those fiend-born rats, always questing for new horrors, and determined to lead me on even unto those grinning caverns of earth’s centre where Nyarlathotep, the mad faceless god, howls blindly to the piping of two amorphous idiot flute-players. 

The Horrible Conclusion:
     They must know it was the rats; the slithering, scurrying rats whose scampering will never let me sleep; the daemon rats that race behind the padding in this room and beckon me down to greater horrors than I have ever known; the rats they can never hear; the rats, the rats in the walls.
Read it here.

Follow'd by "The Unnamable"